“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana
Filmmaker Oliver Stone created the 12-hour series “The Untold History of the United States” to paint a more accurate picture of U.S. history for the American public. Stone is behind many great films, such as, “Scarface,” “Wall Street,” “Platoon,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “Heaven & Earth,” “Salvador,” “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “JFK,” “Natural Born Killers,” and “Nixon and Snowden.” Stone’s films always have a tight relationship with politics as well as history and with “Untold” he takes U.S. history head on.
“Untold” is a scathing take on the U.S. empire which exposes the lies and propaganda behind major events like the Iraq war, 2008 Wall Street Bailouts and more. “Untold” drastically deviates from agreed upon narratives espoused by the government and reinforced by the media. As a result, Stone expected blowback and researched extensively to avoid any discrepancies. Stone declared, “This has been fact checked by corporate fact checkers, by our own fact checkers and fact checkers hired by Showtime. It’s been thoroughly vetted these are facts, our interpretation may be different than orthodox, but it definitely holds up.” “Untold”’s narrative is widely recognized by university-based historians. Stone urges that the real issue is the government’s as well as mainstream media’s control over the prevailing narrative, which alters most people’s perception of authentic history. In other words, it is not that the history is untold (a quick google search can dig up these facts) but they do not get mainstream attention. As George Orwell said, “The people will believe what the media tells them they believe”.
“Untold” animates the past using snippets from speeches, interviews, TV and movies to capture the zeitgeist of the time. Clips of Bill O’Reilly calling those who criticize the government during times of war “bad Americans” to push compliance; TV shows like “24” exalting torture and the surveillance state; video games like “Call of Duty” and movies like “Black Hawk Down” all glorify military technology just when the “War on Terror” was kicking into full gear. This media presence isn’t found in conventional textbooks or examined by the media networks; but “Untold” hammers the idea of the interconnectedness of culture and politics home.
The visuals in “Untold” sear history into your brain. For example, the disgusting images of U.S. soldiers humiliating the prisoners of Abu Ghraib cannot be adequately described using the written word. The tenth episode of “Untold” opens with a speech from Dr. King which gave me goosebumps. Dr. King said, “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” MLK called the U.S. out for spending an ungodly amount of money on lethal weapons, when they could have spent the money humanitarian technologies instead. This speech exemplifies “Untold”’s motif of unveiling the fact that the U.S. has consistently lied to go to war. Lyndon B. Johnson used the false claim that North Vietnam fired torpedoes at the USS Maddox to justify the invasion of Vietnam, H.W. Bush lied about an Iraqi military buildup on the border of Saudi Arabia as well as Iraqi soldiers killing Kuwaiti babies in their incubators to start the Gulf War, W. Bush lied about WMDs to start the Iraq War and Obama lied about how the Iraq War was ended in his statement, “We are leaving behind a sovereign and stable Iraq.”
I believe “Untold” to be essential for all Americans to view — I would even go so far as to say it should be a requirement to vote. I can’t express enough how important learning an honest version of our history is. “Untold” may paint America with a darker brush, but being conscious of the nefarious and manipulative actions of our government is the only way we can come together and prevent future deceptions. “Untold” asks its viewers tough questions. Has America’s self-love and exceptionalism blinded us to corruption and crime? Has history been re-written to benefit the wealthiest corporations and crooked politicians? Should we continue to trust the media and politicians, who have lied to us again and again? You may feel bewildered and paralyzed upon learning the extent of criminality in American politics after watching “Untold,” but Stone attempts to leave us hopeful, saying in the final scene, “the history of man is not only one of blood and death, but also one of honor, achievement, kindness and civilization. There is a way forward, by remembering the past.
Chris Cunningham is a third-year communication studies major. CC900349@wcupa.edu